lundi 5 novembre 2012

Haiti Flails in Sandy's Wake

Richemond Gary, a 33-year-old mechanic in the farming
town of Marin-Foujy, on Saturday tossed a rock
at the site of his home, which was washed away
by the muddy torrent of Rivière Grise
during Hurricane Sandy
RIVIÈRE GRISE, Haiti—Three days of torrential downpours and strong winds brought by Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of Haiti's fragile agriculture and have put a million and a half Haitians at risk for hunger, the United Nations' humanitarian-aid coordination office said over the weekend.
Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, last week declared a state of emergency to deal with the aftermath of the storm that hit on Oct. 24. It battered the country's south and dealt a major blow to Haiti's subsistence agriculture, destroying 70% of the country's crops. Floods and landslides killed at least 54 people and the toll is expected to rise, government officials said.
In neighboring Cuba, Sandy killed 11 people and savaged the country's coffee and sugar crops when it plowed through Santiago de Cuba, the country's second- largest city.
"One and one half million Haitians are now at serious risk of hunger," George Ngwa, spokesman for the U.N.'s humanitarian mission in Haiti, said in an interview. Even before the hurricane, it was a struggle for half of Haiti's roughly 10 million people to get enough food amid high prices and Haitians' meager incomes, he said.
Poor roads and communications have hindered damage assessments and relief efforts. Haitian government and international agencies say Sandy destroyed or damaged at least 21,000 houses, affected the livelihood of some 200,000 people, many of them subsistence farmers, and caused at least $104 million of damage.
The final toll is likely to be much higher once relief workers reach hard-hit areas cut off by flooded roads and rivers, relief organization officials say.
"We're beyond desperate," 42-year old Jean-Claude Pierre, a truck driver from the farming town of Marin-Foujy, said on Saturday, looking down at the flooded river bed of Rivière Grise, which runs through farmlands outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. "Where you see the muddy waters, there used to be dry land. Hundreds of homes were engulfed, many fields destroyed. Not one tree is left."
Further down the ravaged river bank, 83-year-old Oswald Jean-Baptiste sat in a rocking chair gazing at muddy water running through an area he said had been planted with plantains, beans, coconuts and mangos. "All my fields are gone, and so is the land," he said. "The river flows where there was land and food."
The hurricane damage is the latest in a series of hits to Haiti's agriculture this year. First, a drought in the north withered crops, and then tropical storm Isaac lashed the island in August. "Now Sandy has finished off most of the crops," Mr. Ngwa said. He estimates 90% of Haiti's crops have been destroyed by natural disasters this year.
The Haitian government is appealing to the international community for help, but donors and international aid agencies are stretched thin as they try to meet pledges for the country's reconstruction made after an earthquake leveled the capital of Port-au-Prince in 2010, killing some 300,000 people.
Potential food-price increases worry international and Haitian officials. Haiti imports most of its food, and prices have risen this year, recently fueling protests over the high cost of livingin the chronically unstable country, which had widespread food riots in 2008.
The government said last week it would compensate victims by sending about $25 to victims' cellphones, and provide an additional $2 million in aid to the West Department, where Rivière Grise is, to help some 95,000 families with their losses.
Residents said the help hadn't yet arrived. "We've not gotten one cent nor seen any official here," Mr. Jean-Baptiste said.
Government officials couldn't be reached for comment.
The government also said it would distribute food to the most at risk.Haitian television last week showed images of President Michel Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe delivering supplies to rain-soaked communities. But large areas of the south are still unreachable by land. U.N. helicopters are flying in supplies.
The flooding has raised fears of a resurgence in cholera cases. Since a major outbreak in October 2010, 600,000 people have contracted the disease that has killed more than 7,500 Haitians.
While cases rise during heavy downpours, the epidemic is declining, Mr. Ngwa said. "There was an increase of about 200 to 300 cases during Sandy, especially in the south, but overall it's slowing down," he said. He said there were 8,228 cases of cholera in October, up from 7,500 in September.
A version of this article appeared November 5, 2012, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Haiti Flails in Sandy's Wake.

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